Inter Milan's Revival: Can They Overtake Everyone and Win Serie A Again?
When a father first plays computer games with his son, he may let the boy build up a bit of a lead in order to make things more interesting. This paternal handicap system allows the action to be a little more fun for everyone involved.
Lately, it looks as if Inter might have been indulging in their own version of such antics.
Freed from worries about the Club World Cup, clear of some injuries and having parted company with Rafa Benitez, they look like a totally transformed team. The weekend battering of Bologna would have been unimaginable a few weeks ago. In just three league games in 2011 they have made up significant ground on Milan, Napoli, Lazio, Roma and Juventus.
It is hard to resist a pantomime-style cry of: "They're behind you!".
It's simplistic to blame all of Inter's woes on Benitez (although he played a big part) and probably premature to hail Leonardo a saviour (time will tell if he is). Nonetheless, they have clearly issued a wake-up call to the teams in front of them. You will have to smarten up your act if you want to take the Scudetto.
Milan have the most reassuring cushion but one win in their last four Serie A outings has to be a cause for concern. They took an age to get going against Lecce and were unable to build on a Zlatan Ibrahimovic wonder-goal worthy of winning any match. The facial contortions of Adriano Galliani were not those of man confident he was watching a title-winning side.
But the Rossoneri remain a good way down the track for Inter. Next in their sights are Juventus who had to use up all their guts and "grinta" to see off Bari. Injuries have hammered the Bianconeri of late which has to be used as part of their plea in mitigation. Just the same, it would be no surprise if La Vecchia Signora trailed the Nerazzurri come the Derby d'Italia next month.
Who will win Serie A this season
And does anyone realistically expect the capital clubs or Napoli to stand in their way? The Lazio side which ground out a win over Sampdoria looked solid but unspectacular. The Neapolitans were held by Fiorentina but at least had the excuse they were missing one of their talented trinity of Hamsik, Lavezzi and Cavani. As for Roma, they sometimes look more like a soap-opera than Scudetto challengers.
All this does not mean Inter can stroll to another title but it does mean they have to be taken very, very seriously. They face a run of more testing matches over the next few weeks which will tell us more about their credentials. They have certainly looked ominous of late.
However, fans of the Nerazzurri should avoid any complacency following this recent surge. Any one of the teams in front of them is capable of finding the form they need to fend them off. And, as any father can tell you, it won't be long before your boy is more than capable of beating you without the need for any helping hand.
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